My anxiety rises as my turn draws near. My voice trembles and I apologise as I hurry through the details, my words tumbling out as I skim over my firstborn’s birth story. I keep my emotion to a minimum and avoid eye contact with the group as they watch and listen quietly, while I hope we can move on quickly to the next mother.
It was exactly how I had imagined and more. It was so precious that my husband and I, our bodies still brimming with oxytocin, talked animatedly about it for weeks afterwards, unpacking the details of how our baby girl gloriously entered the world as we cried tears of joy. It was magical.
So why was I finding it so difficult to share this story with a group of women who had just been through childbirth? Why was I downplaying my achievement when we all knew how difficult it was to go through it? Was I nervous of coming across as smug?
My birth experience was – how I can put it? – wonderful. There, I said it. I had a really awesome first-time birthMy birth experience was – how I can put it? – wonderful. There, I said it. I had a really awesome first-time birth.
“I wince when I hear women discuss their blissful births,” admits a friend who had a difficult experience. “I feel guilty, embarrassed and, to be honest, I feel like a failure. The traumatic birth of my son made my realise that so many women go through intense deliveries that don’t follow the script. We need to open up about the reality of birth and acknowledge that this is potentially one of the biggest and most intense experiences we will ever go through.
I believe every woman wants their birth to be valued, but specifically by sharing traumatic birth stories, they could help themselves – and others – to heal. However, when is the right time to share?
When I was pregnant I was told many unwelcome birth stories ranging from the ok to the bad to the downright horrific. For whatever reason, when a women caught a glimpse of my bump, she felt compelled to overshare, and the details of her friend’s difficult 72-hour labour would spill out before I could politely say “stop”. I find it hard to think of any other situation where people show such crushing insensitivity to someone who is about to undergo a medical procedure. But, as many of us mums know, pregnancy and birth seems to invite a deluge of unsolicited advice.
I believe every woman wants their birth to be valued, but specifically by sharing traumatic birth stories, they could help themselves – and others – to heal
“I was shocked and harrowed by the amount of scaremongering that flew around when I was pregnant,” shares Ellis Harwood, a positive birth advocate and trained doula in the region. “Surely, we should be supporting, uplifting and empowering pregnant women?
“But of course, there’s a time and place. I feel it’s important first time mums hear positive stories to give them a confidence boost. I feel it’s equally important for a mum to be given an opportunity to share her less than positive story, but again it should be tailored to the correct audience.”
When pregnant for the first time I tried to take the birth anecdotes I heard with a pinch of salt. That was their story, I reminded myself, I will make my own. But as I continued to hear more unfortunate experiences, doubt began to seep into my mind – could I really achieve the birth I was working towards?
This is when I threw on my metaphorical cloak of protection, an idea from my HypnoBirthing instructor, Ana Piera from The Dancing Birth, who told me to imagine that this protective cloak would shield me from doubts and negative stories. With my MacBook balanced on my swollen belly I searched the web for uplifting stories. They were few and far between, but the ones I did find quelled my fears and empowered me.
“We need to raise the volume on positive birth experiences,” adds Harwood. “We should encourage women to educate themselves and gather the tools to obtain what they want from their delivery and to remember that knowledge is power.”
As I finish telling my story to the massage group, the room falls silent. The instructor nods at me with a warm smile and we carry on with the class. At the end of our session, as we pack up our bags, one mother who had shared her harrowing experience of an unwanted emergency C-section, called my name and said to me firmly, “Don’t apologise for your wonderful birth. I wanted that experience too, and you should absolutely be proud of it.”
There’s no right or wrong way to give birth but if we can empower women and eliminate some of the anxiety around it then surely sharing a positive experience, in the correct context, can be a good thing?
“Birth matters,” says Ina May-Gaskin, America’s leading midwife and a natural birth guru. “For each mother, it is an event that shakes and shapes her to the innermost core. Positive stories shared by women who have wonderful childbirth experiences are an irreplaceable way to transmit knowledge of a woman's true capabilities.”
Birth matters, and so does your story. So tell it.